Eroding Criteria – and the “Ring Wise” Dog

I have a vision of my dog’s performance on the dogwalk. I want him to race the length of the plank and assume an unambiguous position at the bottom of the ramp (al1rto), until released, and without regard to my movement and position. Being the consummate dog trainer I will consistently wait for my dog to assume the position before I mark the performance and reward him for being clever.

Now, when I get him into competition I’m immediately aware that it’s all a race against the clock. And I’d like to win. Right? So give him his command for “bottom”… but as soon as I see his foot touch the yellow, I release him on to continue the course.

I’ve just described a killer phenomenon: Eroding Criteria. In spite of all the hard work that the dog’s trainer did teaching the dog his job, the dog’s handler manages to sabotage the training initiative with the dog in competition by confusing and obfuscating the specific criteria of the performance.

The dog’s trainer will re-emphasize the specific criteria for an unambiguous finish in training… while the dog’s handler will continue to confuse and muddle every time there’s a stop-watch on the performance. The dog quickly learns the basic rules of contact performance: “When in training I am required to go all the way to the bottom and wait; but in competition all bets are off.”

The “ring-wise” dog is the product of the inconsistent conflict between trainer and handler. If you appreciate good irony, it’s a certain irony that the trainer and handler are usually the same person.


“I’m not going to let him think he can get away from that” (having a bad trainer)



Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: And Check out my new publication the Idea BookAgility Training for a Small Universe available at

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